Tell us a bit about your background
I was born in the UK and moved to Ghana with my mother when I was two years old. I moved back to the UK at 20 after my first degree. I still consider Ghana home. I am a qualified lawyer. My first degree was in English from the University of Ghana. I then studied Law at the University of London, after which I qualified as a Barrister in England & Wales (though I never actually practiced as a Barrister). I went on to do a master’s in environmental law. I started working in the environmental law & policy space in 1993 and have stayed involved in various ways since then.
I have worked for companies such as Anglo American (in South Africa), De Beers and Linklaters. I started at Linklaters as an environmental lawyer and came out a corporate lawyer. I then joined the sales and marketing subsidiary of De Beers in London as a corporate lawyer. Two years after joining, the then Managing Director asked me to join the executive team and also the board of the subsidiary. In the transition, he asked me to move from pure law into government relations and corporate affairs mainly because aside from legal negotiations, there was always an aspect of negotiating with governments on issues other than legal ones, which required understanding what was wanted and needed by the countries we did business with.
So I started my career in government relations and what we now refer to as ‘sustainability’. After De Beers, I was headhunted to work for Tullow Oil where I spent 4 years. Tullow Oil is an independent oil and gas company with interests in quite a few countries in Africa. I was Vice President for External Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility. I set up the department and used social investment as a tool for building and managing relationships. I have never really left the law because I am always involved in negotiations. In fact, my background as a corporate and environmental lawyer has helped me develop my expertise in the area of sustainability.
You were awarded an MBE in 2014, what was this for and how did that make you feel?
The MBE was for services in corporate social responsibility for the benefit of young people in Africa. It came about because of work I did at Tullow in helping the company set up a scholarship scheme that supported young Africans to study abroad, in subjects that were relevant to the oil and gas industry. I feel that there is a big issue for us on the continent in developing capacity and having enough qualified people to work in certain industries. Even though we have loads of oil and gas resources there has always been a battle in growing our local talent and capabilities. My mission was to grow that capability and capacity within the African continent, for the benefit of Tullow (and the rest of the oil & gas industry). I developed a scheme that was administered by the British Council.
What was your motivation for setting up Kina Advisory and what is your long-term vision for the business?
My motivation in setting up Kina Advisory seven years ago is to assist and advise businesses to be successful in Africa. Being successful in Africa means taking into account best practices, as well as looking beyond just the business to understand the countries, their aspirations and see how one can truly be a corporate citizen. I am not talking about philanthropy, as laudable as that it is. — I believe everything a business does should be linked to their objectives and business drivers because this is what keeps them sustainable. Kina is a small niche firm with a core team, as well as a network of brilliant associates across the continent and a fabulous, supportive advisory board.
I would like our work at Kina to survive me, to be bigger than just one person, so we are starting to create an online advisory service. We are making the online service accessible for African companies who may find it difficult to get access to advisory services at an affordable price. My vision is to be internationally recognised as an advisory firm that understands and provides advice to help African businesses. We want to walk alongside African businesses as they go on their Sustainability journey.
In the current global situation where sustainability is seen as critical, what can African countries do to succeed?
A lot of African companies adopt and comply with environmental social and governance standards mainly because they are required to by their investors and financiers or by their customers. Whereas it is largely a matter of compliance, for now, I believe that there is also a lot of value creation from adopting good ESG practices. On the environmental front, it is about ensuring that your surroundings are not badly impacted by your business operations. Take the environment, for example, if you care about proper waste disposal, it can save you and your employees from diseases and illness, as well as also save on costs (from recycling or upcycling).
On the social front, it is about how you treat your employees, customers and communities impacted by your business. On the governance side, it is about doing business with efficiency and integrity. These days, if a company is exposed to corrupt or bad practices, we see the shares drop. A loss of reputation comes with a loss of customers and financing. It’s quite simple, how do we make sure African companies are able to operate in these three facets and understand why it is important for the long-term prosperity of their business? They also become more attractive outside their borders as foreign companies and customers are looking for businesses with good ESG practices.
You have had a hugely successful career, what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Setting up Kina Advisory and thriving for seven years. It’s a personal achievement as I came into entrepreneurship later in life. Until starting Kina, I had always been an employee, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that all I’ve learnt over the years have all merged into Kina.
What advice would you give to women that work in and want to progress in male-dominated sectors? What are your 3 top tips?
I’ve been in two male-dominated sectors. Oil & Gas and Mining, so here are the tips that I have applied to myself in progressing:
“Get the best qualification that you can” i.e. both academic and work experience. Be as highly qualified as you can because that is your truth.
“Work as hard as you can” — the point is that you should always give your very best. For me, that has meant working twice as hard as the person next to me, but I’ve enjoyed it.
“Make sure you are passionate about what you do”. I have always been passionate about my career choice. If you’re going to go into a male-dominated sector, make sure it’s one that you are passionate about; it’s hard enough as it is.
How do you deal with achieving your work-life balance?
My work is my life! I’m very blessed as I’m passionate about what I do for my work. It’s not a chore to do what I do. When you are working for yourself, you go with the flow and sometimes the work can consume and take all your time. However, I do have a life and great friends. I think it’s important to have people around you who are counsellors as well as friends who tell you the truth.
Who did you admire most growing up?
My mother (and I still do), without a shadow of a doubt. She has been my role model, with her brilliant work ethic, personal integrity, grace and care for people.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love history and I love to travel to historical places. I’m a lifelong learner so I also love reading. I’ve learnt to speed read. I enjoy reading biographies because I like learning about other people. Apart from that, I am currently Vice-Chair & Trustee of the Africa Gifted Foundation. This is a charity that is focused on building up STEM capacity for young people, particularly women in Africa. It has a sixth form college that is doing very well in Ghana.
How do you manage your finances and investments?
A few years back, I decided that I needed a financial advisor to help me with my savings and investments. I have some savings but have always ensured that I have a portfolio of investments (including ISAs and a pension). Apart from that, I have a monthly budget to cover my monthly outgoings, including an allocation of money to spend on myself, which I keep to very strictly. The fact that I own my home is important and is also a huge investment for me. I have also invested in art and jewellery (from the time I worked at De Beers). I’m an expert in sustainability and not finance, so I have had a financial advisor for about twenty years now.